The annals of human history are filled with innumerable acts of barbarism and tyranny committed by ruthless warmongers, religious fanatics and their ethnically hate-filled genocidal followers. After the countless battery of heinous crimes committed by Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union and Japan’s Imperial Military before and during World War II, it was rightly expected that the light of humanism finally would emerge triumphant over the dark forces of Fascism, National Socialism, military Imperialism and the Soviet Union’s depraved utopian Communism. However, while Germany, Italy, Japan and their former allies completely renounced Imperialism, Fascism as well as National Socialism, Russia’s leaders have never abandoned their tyrannical and revanchist domestic as well as foreign policies to restore the putative “greatness” of the thoroughly discredited Soviet Union with its colonial empire. To wit, by the leaders of the newly minted Russian Federation, the terms Fascism, Nazism and Imperialism have been misused to emphasize their irreconcilable enmity and their fallacious use of the most strategic engagement in their quest for the restoration of the status quo ante – their uncompromising confrontation with the United States of America as well as the rest of the world.
Accordingly, from his original installation by former President Yeltsin as the new tyrant of the Russian Federation at the end of 1999, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has labored to recreate the Soviet Union under the old Tsarist ideology of Official Nationality. Composed of Pan Slavism, known also as transcendent Christian Orthodoxy; Autocracy, meaning the so-called governing elite’s tyrannical supremacy; and Nationality, depicted as the racial superiority of the Russian narodnost cum nation. Moreover, in his capacities as President and Prime Minister, Putin has been on a mission to reassure the Russian people that the Soviet Union’s disintegration was due to the hostile machinations of foreign powers, not to the internal and international weaknesses of the pseudo Communist empire. The empire was only gone temporarily, he concluded. The emergence of the Russian Federation, like the mythological Phoenix rising from the eternal fire, constitutes a victory, not a defeat, he stated. Finally, the resurrection of historical Russia is the clearest proof that the sufferings of the Russian nation will be reversed by him. Be patient and courageous, he intoned, and I will conquer Russia’s enemies and the world.
Concurrently, a succession of American presidents have labored under the assumption that the leaders of the Russian Federation desire to politically democratize and economically modernize their realm. The common characteristic of their views of Russia has been the utter lack of knowledge and understanding of Russian history, Russian culture and the mentality of the Russian people. Hence, President Clinton’s “peace dividend,” President George W. Bush’s “I looked the man in the eye” amateurish fallacy, President Obama’s vainglorious belief in his imaginary brain powers, President Trump’s faith in his “art of the deal” ability, and President Biden’s non-existent experience as well as almost zero knowledge of European and world history, have only contributed to the enhanced geostrategic confusion of the post-Soviet era.
As historians and politicians incessantly remind us, the histories of individual countries, regions and continents are interconnected. In general, they also note that the more things change the more they remain the same. Lastly, they bemoan the fact that the ever changing politics of the day usually negatively affect the appreciation of history. Yet, interconnection does not mean uniformity, advancement does not always signal progress, and politically tainted interpretation and reinterpretation of the past as well as the present do not necessarily result in positive transformation of nations and societies. Objectively, the histories of different countries that are interconnected have shown, more often than not, distinctly disparate interpretations of real as well as invented traditions, leaving their histories with substantive triviality which prevents these societies and nations from proceeding toward establishing complete democracies.
Russia’s war on Ukraine is an unrelievedly grim tale of both countries’ historical inability to overcome the past collapses of their antediluvian orders. The resulting political, intellectual, cultural and moral madness always led to extraordinary convolutions. Specifically, behind the demolition artist Putin there lurks the primitive, misinformed, exploited and wretched masses of the Russian people. Conversely, behind the increasingly heroic persona of Zelenskyy stands the combined force of the heterogeneous Ukrainian nation that in its overwhelming majority desires to move west from its traditional eastern roots.
Contrary to the superficial and thus erroneous impression of most politicians and media analysts, Putin has been a living enigma without a rational reason. Obsessed by his Russian inferiority complex and fear of Western intellectual and cultural superiority, Putin was awestruck by the alacrity of German reunification. These feelings of citizen Putin were compounded by the chaotic and violent events of the first decade of the newly minted Russian Federation under President Yeltsin. Thus, when appointed Prime Minister on August 9, 1999, his first act of revenge was his brutal military operation against the independence movement of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria against the Russian Federation. For Putin, the two-year war in Chechnya, dubbed the Second Chechen War, was also a crusade to prove that in Putin’s Russian Federation the right of self-determination of peoples and nations will not be tolerated. More importantly, he showed that the strongest nation in the region has no legal or moral responsibilities to respect international and domestic laws which it signed, such as the Peace Treaty of 1997 after the First Chechen War between 1994-1996. The 1999 war on Chechnya demonstrated that the mightier nation can murder indiscriminately, steal, rape and lie at will. The result was deep hatred toward Putin and everything Russian by those whom the former should have respected and treated as equal. Even more egregiously, Putin’s war against the Chechens was an unambiguous declaration that he does not recognize self-discipline as a guiding principle of any political order, be it domestic or international. By doing so, Putin made it crystal clear that as president he will be driven by ruthless and indiscriminate violence as well as horrible inhumanity. More than two decades later, in February 2022, he proved that his infinite barbarism knows no bounds, and that his lack of self-control could become suicidal.
His illegal war on Ukraine is only the first salvo in his relentless and uncompromising quest to establish a new world order. According to numerous statements by President Putin and his Foreign Minister Lavrov, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has been designed to put an end to the US-dominated international regime: “Our special military operation is meant to put an end to the unabashed expansion [of NATO] and the unabashed drive towards full domination by the US and its Western subjects on the world stage,” did the latter intone on Rossiya 24 news channel. Moreover: “This domination is built on gross violations of international law and under some rules, which they are now hyping so much and which they make up on a case-by-case basis.” Finally, he blasted the European Union’s foreign policy commissioner Josep Borrell thus: “When a diplomatic chief …says a certain conflict can only be resolved through military action…Well, it must be something personal. He either misspoke or spoke without thinking, making statements that nobody asked him to make. But it’s an outrageous remark.” In closing, he assured his interviewer that Russia wants a negotiated peace with Ukraine.
What hypocrisy? What outrage? What lies? Starting with the Kremlin’s declared objectives when the illegal invasion begun to “DeNazify” and to “teach Kyiv’s drug edicts” to implement the Minsk agreements signed in 2014 and 2015 respectively, and concluding with the demand that Kyiv recognize the illegal annexation of the Crimea as well as the fraudulent independence of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Luhansk, the Kremlin has incessantly upped the ante against Ukraine. Most recently, President Putin has demanded that Kyiv officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join NATO and the European Union.
Clearly, President Putin’s goals are unattainable by peaceful means. His stated intention to reestablish the Soviet Union and beyond means wars that will rapidly multiply without ends in sight. Moreover, these wars will become so lengthy, so bloody and so costly, that they will surely destroy Russia and at least the neighboring countries. Finally, the attacks on the well established principles of international law, humanitarianism and reason, will elevate brute force and unlimited violence to the supreme principle of international relations. What President Putin really demands is the complete barbarization of the world through ubiquitous militarization. This demand, however, demonstrates that he lacks even a modicum of educated intellect to comprehend the realities of world politics. Most importantly, he is absolutely oblivious to the fact that wars for the sake of mindless destruction and which never end will lose their political efficacy. The world cannot allow itself to be led by a barbarian with sub-intelligence to total annihilation. Shockingly, the Biden administration has chosen from the beginning of the war Obama’s “leading from behind” approach. Personally, President Biden is mentally unfit to lead anything. He is a failed president who belongs to a mental institution rather than in the White House. In the presidency, his shuffling connotes stagnation and even walking backwards. In politics, this kind of glaring weakness exposes a politician to assault. Ignoring President Putin’s grand design will result in worldwide catastrophe. Unless Congress realizes that the world is at a crossroads and forces him to change course, the world will perish. The United States of America cannot be wrong a second time. For these reasons, if the United States of America will not lead the world and do not unite against President Putin’s barbarism, the Ukrainian genocide will become the beginning of the end for human civilization on this earth.
As it is on the brink of retaking power in Congress, the conservative coalition needs to start asking tough questions about what it stands for and how it operates. It also needs to consider the easy ones, like what is and what is not acceptable and in which direction it wants to train its fire.
The introspection is necessary because of people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who represents Georgia’s 14th Congressional District and is so undisciplined in the political sense that when she launches barbs at progressives, she inevitably hits a few nominal ideological allies standing in between where she is on the fringe and where they the liberals are.
Ronald Reagan used to say something about a person who was with him 80 percent of the time not being his 20 percent enemy. It was a wise description, not just of political reality but of the way successful conservative politicians operate. Unlike the Democrats, who are a collection of interest groups that support one another in their efforts to divide the pie, the Gipper led a Republican Party that understood the need to assemble enough votes to win. That meant, as it often did in those days, the GOP needed to court members of the other party as they strolled down the pathway to victory.
In the decades since, the parties like the electorate have grown more polarized. This may be an argument for a strong backbone, but it isn’t an excuse for a big mouth. Greene, who can’t seem to say good morning without causing controversy, seems to believe this is a good way to advance conservative views. Believe me, it’s not.
It’s not just that she goes out of her way to be provocative. That’s sometimes necessary, as Newt Gingrich showed while waking the GOP House Conference up from a 40-year sleep. But provocation without purpose is unhelpful, especially for the other Republicans who are often called upon to respond to what she’s said or done.
The latest outrage was her vote Thursday when she – as one of only seven other members of the House did – voted against suspending normal U.S. trade relations with Russia and Belarus following their unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. To her, it seems, America has more important issues to deal with – as she said later in a video posted online:
“If we truly care about suffering and death on our television screens, we cannot fund more of it by sending money and weaponry to Ukraine to fight a war they cannot possibly win,” she said. “The only effect, more arms and more money from America will be to prolong the war and magnify human suffering.”
She may think what she wants, but they conflict with the facts. The brave freedom fighters in Ukraine are holding on better than anyone expected. The Russian Army is performing like something sent by the Tsar rather than as a military force composed of super machines and supermen the world feared during the Soviet era. If she cannot see that Ukraine’s fight is America’s fight, at least so far as when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Congress the invasion was “a brutal offensive against our values” and “against our right to live freely in our own country… just like the same dreams you have, you Americans, just like anyone else in the United States,” then she has missed the whole point about what it means to stand for freedom and self-government.
There have been other incidents as well, too many in fact to contain them all in a single column that is still of readable length. The Democrats were wrong when they voted to strip her of her committee assignments over things she said before being elected to Congress, but that doesn’t make her a hero. Instead, it gave her more time to make mischief, leading her to become a congressional carbuncle, better known for the irritation she has caused than for anything she might have accomplished. Rather than being the brave and often lonely warrior standing for values like freedom against the machinations of the “deep state” she likes to portray herself as being, she has become an embarrassment as well as an impediment to the conservative cause.
There is a profound difference, as former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) explains in his newly released memoir “Leader,” between being a person of stature and a person of status. Greene no doubt thinks she is the former when she is most obviously the latter. She has what a journalist friend of mine likes to describe as being an adult form of ADD: she can’t stand it when people don’t pay attention to her.
If she’s serious about extending liberty and protecting freedom, she needs to start being serious about the business of legislating, of offering concrete ideas in the form of legislation that will reduce the burden and reach of the federal government, enhance personal freedom, make the nation stronger and allow us as a nation to proceed forward into the 21st century with our national head held high. If all she wants is attention, she should resign from Congress to start a podcast, get in the radio business or persuade someone to back her in launching a television show. That way, she’ll get the kind of influence she wants – and has – while someone who is interested in doing the job a Member of Congress is supposed to, can have her seat.
Half measures won't save Ukraine or restore American deterrence
The strongest part of President Biden’s State of the Union address was the section on the war in Ukraine. Biden condemned the Russian invasion. He welcomed the Ukrainian ambassador. He led Congress in a statement of solidarity with the Ukrainian people in their fight against the Russian aggressor. He announced that the United States was closing its airspace to Russian planes, cutting off Russia from the international financial system, penalizing the Russian central bank, sanctioning the Russian government and its leadership, and targeting Russian oligarchs. He made it clear whose side the United States is on. “Together with our allies,” Biden said, “we are providing support to the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom. Military assistance. Economic assistance. Humanitarian assistance.”
All good. All sensible. And not nearly enough. Defeating Russia in Ukraine and restoring American deterrence will require much more than Biden has announced so far. The State of the Union was a chance for Biden to explain the nature of the threat, the stakes for America, his plan for rolling back Putin’s offensive, his strategy for American revival, and the potential costs to American citizens. He ducked the hard questions. He relied on bromides. He left the impression that the road ahead will be relatively painless, and that victory is assured. It isn’t.
“Putin may circle Kyiv with tanks, but he will never gain the hearts and souls of the Iranian people,” Biden said. He meant to say the “Ukrainian people.” A laudable sentiment. And a misleading one. What does it matter to Putin if he gains the “hearts and souls” of Ukrainians? He doesn’t want their love. He desires their territory. And he won’t just encircle Kyiv with tanks. He will level it. Biden could have warned America and the world about the sorts of horrible images already being broadcast from Ukraine. He could have explained why the misery will grow worse long before it subsides. He could have steeled the nation’s spine for the uncertain years ahead. He chose not to.
“Freedom will always triumph over tyranny,” Biden said. Another lovely idea that crumbles under scrutiny. Ask the North Koreans or the Cubans or the Venezuelans or the Iranians or the Chinese or, for that matter, the Russians if freedom always triumphs over tyranny. The tragic fact of the matter is that freedom is rare. Authoritarians are resilient. Biden left out the element essential to freedom’s victory. Freedom requires more than will. It requires force. And in today’s world of proliferating dangers, the only nation with the power to shield freedom from its enemies is the United States.
I’m not talking about the power of our example. I mean the military and strategic assets at our disposal. These elements of national power are the foundation for a world of democracies. But they have atrophied. America’s armed forces labor under budget constraints. America’s nuclear deterrent requires modernization. America’s research and development has withered, and American energy has been constricted. America’s alliances are force multipliers that Biden has leveraged well against Russia. They can only get us so far, however. In the end, it will be American will and American might that guarantee international security in Europe, East Asia, and the Greater Middle East. Every minute spent evading this reality is wasted.
Which is why Biden’s easy confidence in the eventual victory of freedom over oppression troubles me. Take the defense budget. Biden mentioned the Department of Defense a single time—in reference to his plan to “end cancer as we know it.” He spent an hour calling on Congress to pass legislation that has failed already. Not once did he ask Congress to pass the defense appropriations bill. Nor did he ask for more to be spent on defense in this global emergency. America spent an average of 7 percent of gross domestic product on our military during the first Cold War. Now we spend about 3 percent. To win a Second Cold War against an expansionist Russia and a belligerent China, we must spend more. Failure to do so isn’t just unserious. It’s reckless.
Biden’s energy plan was similarly troubling. He announced the release of strategic petroleum reserves to tamp down the rising cost of oil and gasoline. The problem with reserves, though, is that they eventually run out. How will we replenish them? Biden left no clue. He wants to provide “investments and tax credits to weatherize your homes and businesses to be energy efficient.” He wants to “double America’s clean energy production in solar, wind, and so much more.” He wants electric vehicles to be cheaper. He’s deluding himself. The words “drill,” “natural gas,” and “nuclear” never passed his lips. He won’t ban Russian oil imports—meaning that we continue to fund the butchers of Ukraine. The American energy sector is the key to national independence, freedom of action on the world stage, and long-term weaning of Europe from dependence on Russian energy. You wouldn’t know that from listening to Biden.
But you would get the impression that the president is averse to conflict. “Let me be clear,” he said, “our forces are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine.” The reinforcements he’s deployed to Europe are there to defend NATO if Putin turns against the Baltic States, Poland, or Romania. America will send weapons to Ukraine, but otherwise the Ukrainians are on their own. This message doesn’t inspire confidence. It gives Putin a green light to conduct the war on his terms. The best way to prevent the expansion of the war is to make Putin second-guess his actions. How? Not by continually reminding him of what you won’t do. You deter Putin by forcing him to consider what you might do.
The State of the Union contained nothing that might stop Putin from continuing his assault. Biden’s silence about the American withdrawal from Afghanistan was telling. He said the word “Afghanistan” just twice, in a section devoted to spending more resources on American veterans. I’m all for spending money to help the troops—active duty as well as reserve and retired. But the 13 servicemen killed as America retreated from a land that we protected for two decades deserved better. The Afghans themselves deserved a mention, as well, especially the ones we have welcomed to America. Their absence was odd.
The whole speech was odd. It lacked the seriousness required during a national trial. Its logic was nonsensical: Biden argued with a straight face, for instance, that protectionism somehow will reduce inflation. His policy proposals either had nothing to do with, or will actively undermine, national priorities such as reducing inflation, securing the southern border, and reestablishing a peaceful world through military strength. “We are stronger today than we were a year ago,” Biden concluded. It’s pleasant to think so. But that doesn’t mean it’s true.
Unfortunately, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Biden officials keep erecting roadblocks.
Biden administration officials took to their new posts earlier this year with the pledge that they are “putting human rights back at the center of U.S. foreign policy.” An ongoing congressional fight puts the lie to that promise.
According to a new report by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman expressed the administration’s desire to water down and slow-walk legislation addressing Uyghur forced labor during a call with Senator Jeff Merkley, a cosponsor of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
At issue was a core component of that bill — a provision that presumes any goods imported from the Xinjiang region were produced using forced labor, unless companies prove otherwise. This makes sense, considering that the tangled multinational supply chains with roots in Xinjiang regularly source materials produced with slave labor; it’s difficult to confirm which products are untainted and therefore in violation of U.S. law. But according to Rogin’s account, Sherman said the administration wanted “a more targeted and deliberative approach” and warned against a unilateral U.S. effort to address the problem.
Translation: Sherman wanted to significantly weaken the legislation. Despite lawyerly White House denials, the administration is clearly lobbying against the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act — and it is doing so in a way that, as Rogin points out, lines up with the position of major corporations who also oppose the legislation.
Just as important, Sherman’s involvement indicates that the push against the initiative is more than the work of John Kerry, desperate to make cooperation with China on climate the top priority of the U.S., human rights be damned.
All of this makes it easier to understand a rank display of political gamesmanship that played out on Capitol Hill this week just ahead of Rogin’s scoop.
Senate Democrats blocked Senator Marco Rubio’s latest attempt to insert the Uyghur forced-labor legislation into the annual defense-authorization package. The Senate actually passed the Uyghur bill unanimously in July, but the House still hasn’t put it to a vote. Frustrated by the House’s delay, Rubio initially tried to get it into the defense bill a week before Thanksgiving but was blocked. He was stymied for the second time this week.
Senate majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi hid behind a procedural excuse, arguing that measures with a bearing on appropriations must begin in the House. But this was a smokescreen. For one, the legislation would have an “insignificant” impact on revenues and spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And if Pelosi had actually wanted to advance the act, she could have done so easily at any point since July.
Pelosi relented Thursday when she met with Representative Jim McGovern, an author of the House’s version of the forced-labor bill. Rubio had hinted that a House vote on the Uyghur legislation could get him to drop his objections to moving the NDAA process along. Just after his meeting with Pelosi, McGovern announced that his bill would indeed receive a vote in the House — a victory for Rubio.
But the act is still far from the finish line. Even if the House adopts McGovern’s bill, that would only begin a new process around that measure (which differs from the Senate version), and there would be many points at which the administration or corporate interests could continue to block or attempt to gut it.
In a hard-hitting floor speech Thursday coming to Rubio’s defense amid attacks by Schumer and Pelosi, Senator Mitt Romney pointed to a green motivation for opposition to the act: “Democrats want cheap batteries for their so-called Build Back Better agenda, and nearly 80 percent of the rare earths, including other materials like lithium and cobalt and the like that are used to make these batteries, come from China.”
Meanwhile, companies with sizable supply-chain footprints in Xinjiang will remain dug in against the bill. About a year ago, the New York Times reported that Apple, Nike, and Coke lobbied against key components of the legislation.
More broadly, following last month’s virtual summit between Biden and Xi Jinping, the White House will be focused on keeping dialogue with the party on track and free of stumbling blocks.
An effort to disentangle corporate American from an ongoing atrocity shouldn’t be consider an inconvenience to be dispensed with, though. If the U.S. is going to prevail in the geopolitical competition with China, it will require an effort on all fronts, not just involving a robust defense budget, strong alliances, and pushback against Chinese espionage and industrial theft, but a willingness to shine a light on the CCP’s grotesque human-rights abuses.
Rubio has been right to be relentless on this, and he should keep it up.
Is America—and the world—prepared for what comes next?
On December 1 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. At issue is the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Judging by the media reaction, things did not go well for the pro-choice side. “The Supreme Court Seems Poised to Overturn Roe v. Wade,” reads one Bloomberg headline. “‘Roe’ is dead. The Roberts Court’s ‘stench’ will live forever,” reads the title of a Washington Post column. The headline of another Washington Post article puts it this way: “The question is not whether ‘Roe v. Wade’ is overturned—but how.” Pro-lifers hope so.
I remain unconvinced. It’s never a good idea to infer a final ruling from the content of oral argument. In March 2012 everyone walked away from arguments in NFIB v. Sebelius, judging the constitutionality of Obamacare, assuming that the health care law was doomed. They underestimated Chief Justice John Roberts’s creativity. The same thing could happen in Dobbs: Roberts may use his smarts and guile to persuade other Republican appointees that the Mississippi law can stand without overturning the right to an abortion in Roe. Such a ruling would be illogical. It would be a jurisprudential mess. It would further aggrandize the Court’s power to decide when and under what circumstances abortion is legal. It would look, in other words, like plenty of other Supreme Court decisions.
Whatever happens, I find I cannot escape the sense that America has reached an impasse, that it has arrived at a moment of transition, and not just on the matter of abortion. Whether one looks at politics, economics, or the world, one sees a realignment of forces, a shuffling of players off and on the stage, to prepare for the next act in the drama. The Trump presidency seems less like the harbinger of a new beginning than a spectacular climax to a historical epoch. If so, we are living through a sort of denouement, a working through of conflicts left unresolved. “It feels like the order we have all taken for granted since the end of the Cold War is badly decaying, and has gotten so fragile that it might well shatter soon,” wrote Damir Marusic of Wisdom of Crowds last month. Question is: What replaces it?
If the Court does overrule Roe next summer, America will have entered uncharted territory. Many states will ban abortion immediately. Others will legalize it for the duration of a pregnancy. Still others will restrict and limit the practice. Abortion will be a matter for legislatures—including the U.S. Congress. Both Democrats and Republicans believe that abortion would become a major issue in next year’s midterm campaign, with unforeseeable consequences. Would a pro-choice backlash help Democrats? Perhaps. Then again, some of us thought that Texas’s fetal heartbeat law might help Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey. That didn’t happen.
Conversely, if the Court does preserve Roe, many conservatives and Republicans fear a pro-life backlash directed at the GOP infrastructure and conservative legal movement. No less an authority than former attorney general Ed Meese wrote in the Washington Post that the “success” of constitutional originalism depends on the Court’s ruling in Dobbs. Tension already is high within the conservative legal movement over former president Donald Trump, his attempt to remain in office, and the intellectual challenges from “common-good” constitutionalists and from advocates of judicial “engagement” over “restraint.” A disappointing ruling may not only deflate Republican enthusiasm, but also turn grassroots conservatives in more radical directions.
Either way, our constitutional system and its parties, ideologies, and politics will look different from before. And this change will happen concurrently with a transition in leadership. As of this writing, 19 House Democrats have announced their retirements. More will follow. It is widely expected that the 81-year-old Nancy Pelosi will retire after the midterm election, even if Democrats somehow keep the House of Representatives. Should we really expect the 82-year-old majority leader and 81-year-old majority whip to remain in their jobs? The belief that the 79-year-old President Joe Biden won’t run for reelection in 2024 is so pervasive that the White House scrambles desperately to calm Democratic nerves. For a party that maintains the allegiance of young people, the Democratic leadership class is disturbingly old. It will have to give up power. And the Democrats waiting in the wings are not what you’d call inspiring.
As these generational fights play out, both the Democratic and Republican parties face the internal challenges of their respective countercultures. The woke neo-socialist left and the national populist right disrupt and polarize, complicating the chances that the electorate will arrive at a non-crazy, common-sense politics of moderate reform and civil peace. The mindless controversies over outlandish personalities, the endless and sophomoric exchanges of social media call-out culture, distract attention from the new issues in political economy that ought to be the basis of policy discussion.
And these issues really are new. The air is so thick with neologisms that I barely can keep up: SPACs, DeFi, NFTs, BTC. It would be foolish to expect government to understand these innovations in finance any better than the rest of us. Meanwhile, millions of Americans have quit their jobs during the recovery. Inflation cuts into earnings. The political class has signed up the developed world for an “energy transition” whose costs dwarf potential benefits.
Congress is nowhere close to figuring out how to deal with Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google. And AI and quantum computing are coming down the pike. One doesn’t have to go the full Andrew Yang to recognize that the worlds of work, saving, investment, production, and trade look much different than they did just a few years ago. The problem isn’t identifying the change. It’s thinking about the change in constructive and original ways that promote human flourishing in the valued places of family, church, neighborhood, and vocation. There’s been work done in this space. But it hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Why? Because the loudmouths, grifters, cranks, and conspiracists drown it out.
Democracies can muddle through political and economic disruption. Foreign policy is different. The prospect of catastrophic miscalculation is real. President Biden’s foolish and botched withdrawal from Afghanistan looks more and more like a curtain-call for the post-Cold War era of American global leadership. It ought to be obvious that his retreat failed to improve American security. Russia and China have become more aggressive in recent months. Iran has accelerated its nuclear program. Belarus aimed its migration weapon at Poland. The Balkans fell back into bad and deadly habits.
China builds up its nuclear weapons cache as it sails a submarine through the Taiwan Strait. Russia shoots down a satellite as it builds up forces on the border of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s recent comments about Russia’s strong relationship with China are the most disturbing and underreported aspect of rising tensions in Eastern Europe. Putin and Xi Jinping seem to have assessed that America has become so decrepit, so inward-looking, so guilt-ridden and risk-averse that the moment has arrived to make the world safe for autocracy. Biden’s response is weak sauce. Holding a summit of democracies may be worthwhile. But it certainly is not a deterrent.
From the Court to Crimea, the past week offered glimpses of the different world we soon will be inhabiting. Not all the images are comforting. They remind us to temper our expectations, avoid rash judgments, and be modest in our presumptions. Above all, they remind us to think seriously about how best to preserve our traditions of freedom in these strange and darkening times.
We have not just lost our minds, but given them up voluntarily.
It was never just a mask, it has always been a way of thinking. “Mask” is just shorthand.
I got dumped from my volunteer work at the Hawaiian Humane Society for choosing not to wear a mask outside while walking their dogs. Neither science, the CDC, nor the state requires a mask outdoors, and I’m fully vaccinated. Some staff bot saw my naked face and informed me of their “policy.” I asked why they had such a nonsensical policy, and her only answer was “it is our policy.” The conversation ended like an ever-growing percentage of conversations in America now end, with her saying, “Do I need to call security?” I didn’t enjoy it, but I think she did.
I was left with no good to do this week, and a simple, real Covid-19 question. Why are fully vaccinated people treated the same as the unvaccinated? Everyone on the plane wears a mask and goes through the same mock social distancing. Everyone at a restaurant, office, concert, etc., does the same. The answer is at the heart of whether public policy in America will shift and allow us to crawl back into our lives.
The biggest reason for treating vaxxed and unvaxxed people the same miserable way is the claim that vaccinated people can still get Covid enough to pass it on. Funny thing is you can actually “get” the measles even after being vaccinated. The vax is actually only 97 percent effective, similar to the Covid ones. But nobody talks about measles or demands we wear a mask to prevent their spread. We simply accept and deal with the risk.
The next question is really, really hard to find an answer to. How many vaccinated people actually get Covid, the so-called “breakthrough” cases?
That exact number is critical because it is the pivot point for the risk vs. gain decision our society needs to make. If we cannot make a wise choice we will be struggling with and fighting over the restrictions on our lives and livelihoods forever. If we assume we’ll never have full vaccination and that breakthrough cases are a non-zero number and likely always will be then we need to make an informed decision about risk. So is it a non-zero number like, duh, “smoking causes cancer,” or a non-zero number like “very few people die from meteor strikes (or from the measles)?”
The current public policy decisions on risk are haphazard. All 50 states have different rules, many large cities, too, and each and every company. There are different rules if you take a bus or want to go dancing. One grocery store demands masks, another does not. It makes no sense. It becomes not a considered decision but an example of lack of public policy leadership. Into that leadership void enters superstition, pseudoscience, politics, voodoo, and most of all, fear.
So what are the chances of a fully vaccinated person getting a breakthrough infection? It turns out this pivotal question is not clearly answerable, but we act as if it is, with consequences for our lives, mental health, education, commerce, and more. Even for our stray dogs.
I started with Google and “What are the chances of getting COVID after being fully vaccinated?” expecting the answer in 0.0039 seconds, like when you ask what year some historical event happened. Nope. AARPsays “less than one percent of fully vaccinated individuals have been hospitalized with, or have died from, COVID.” That’s a small number but does not fully address the question.
Over to NPR, which reports, “On rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others.” What does rare occasions mean? This is supposed to be, you know, science, so we finally get some numbers from the CDC: Out of 159 million fully vaccinated people, the CDC documented 5,914 cases of fully vaccinated people who were hospitalized or died from Covid-19, and 75 percent of them were over age 65. That means only 0.0000037 percent of vaxxed people were hospitalized or died, most of them elderly. That is a very small number. It is a lot less than one percent and a lot less than rare. Chances of dying in a car wreck are many tens of thousands of times higher and yet we drive on.
However, it still does not answer the question of how dangerous the vaxxed but unmasked are in terms of transmitting the virus. No one really knows. Recent scare headlines calling for reinstated restrictions and vax mandates are based on a single outbreak, 469 cases, in one city in Massachusetts, that appears to show (at variance with existing studies) 75 percent of those infected had been vaccinated and oddly, almost all of those people (87 percent) were male. Most of the infected were asymptomatic or experienced mild symptoms. No deaths.
What is believed is the a) Delta variant of Covid makes a b) temporary home inside a vaccinated man’s nose or upper respiratory area, c) outside the immune system. It waits there to be d) blown out and then be e) received by an f) unvaccinated person. So, all these things have to work out for it to matter. It is not simply a chore of toting up how many vaccinated people tested positive and then hitting the panic button. As one doctor put it, “We really need to shift toward a goal of preventing serious disease and disability and medical consequences, and not worry about every virus detected in somebody’s nose.”
Bottom Line 1: We need to stop the obsessive, simplistic, and misleading counting of positive tests and focus on real world consequences.
Requiring everyone wear masks again based on one outbreak may seem as if it can’t hurt, but it does. Organizations waste time and credibility enforcing measures that have limited if any impact (consider how many masks are so old, dirty, improperly worn, etc., to be fully useless.) To simply dismiss the reality of numbers with a blithe “well you can’t be too careful” only works if you imagine Covid restrictions have no secondary or tertiary effects.
Economies have been devastated. Education has disappeared for large numbers of kids. Despair grows menacingly. Suicide attempts by teen girls increased 26 percent during summer 2020 and 50 percent during winter of 2021. We are killing children to save them.
Economic inequality got a booster shot. The power of government has grown alarmingly. The ability to shape how we live, shop, work, and eat has been handed randomly to a near-endless range of actors, from the president to governors empowered with “emergency edicts” to clerks ever-anxious to call security not on shoplifters but on an exposed nose.
Americans’ irrational fears were created by politicians and the media, and have become a profit center. The New York Times for months ran columns saying Trump’s vaccine was another government syphilisexperiment. The vice president refused to take the shot during the campaign. Biden took it, then went right on masking as if it didn’t work.
It was a very successful campaign to propagate uncertainty for a political purpose. It is all their fault vaccine acceptance now varies by political party, where we live, and how much education we have. It’s a form of blowback—the information operation worked too well.
So we won’t concede the reality kids are unlikely to get sick and should go to school. That the vast majority of deaths occur among the elderly with comorbidities, not the general population. That ill-fitting masks and wiping down groceries with Clorox are theater. That the debate has become a political argument instead of an evidence-based one. That everybody agrees the CDC has lost credibility until one side needs it for some partisan purpose. That previously healthcare decisions started with the premise of “first, do no harm,” while today there is no conversation allowed about the balance of benefits and damages. That we simply tally the collateral damage while the virus remains unaffected.
Bottom Line 2: If we are to heal as a society there is only one answer, at some point we must simply ask what works and do that.
But we lack the political leadership to say what’s true, so we’re going back to “let’s just argue about masks and mandates.” Meanwhile the virus continues to find unvaccinated hosts. The economy won’t snap back. Biden is facing a mini civil war over required vaccinations and restarting lockdowns but has no plan. Things will hit the fan in September as Hot Vax Summer sputters, when every school district does something different, and federal unemployment supplements run out.
People have grown weary of being afraid and grown weary of being subject to the paranoid demands of safety fetishists. Many did what they were told to do—get vaxxed—only to find themselves stuck inside the same dysfunctional loop of mask/unmask. We are killing ourselves. Somehow that must be factored into our Covid response.
Bottom Line 3: We can’t resolve the pandemic until we end the panic and the politics. Can Biden do that?
In December 1949, Chiang Kai-shek moved the capitol of the Republic of China (ROC) to Taipei. He intended the relocation to be temporary. He had already moved his government multiple times: when the Empire of Japan invaded China, when World War II ended, and again when Mao Zedong’s Communist insurgents took the upper hand in the Chinese Civil War.
To Chiang’s eyes, Taiwan was the perfect place to refit his tattered forces and prepare them for the long struggle ahead to defeat the Communists. The main island was protected by dozens of tiny island citadels, many just off the mainland coast, and surrounded by famously rough waters. While Chiang’s army had sustained crushing battlefield defeats and mass defections, he believed his superior navy and air force would make Taiwan an impregnable fortress.
The events that followed presented successive U.S. presidents with some of the most consequential foreign policy questions ever confronted by America’s leaders. During the decades since 1949, there have been several incidents that tested whether or not Washington was willing to confront the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and support Taiwan. If past is prologue, how the United States responded to previous crises might say something important about what it will do in the future. So, what does the historical record say? What might we expect to see if China attacks Taiwan in the 2020s or beyond?
The Korean War
On January 12, 1950, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech in which he suggested that America no longer intended to defend its erstwhile allies the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Republic of China (Taiwan). According to Acheson, those governments were outside of America’s defensive perimeter in Asia. His speech encouraged the newly established People’s Republic of China (PRC) to accelerate plans to invade Taiwan. But before Mao Zedong and his generals could act, their North Korean ally Kim Il-sung launched an invasion of South Korea.
On learning of the attack, President Harry Truman decided that the U.S. would defend both Korea and Taiwan, and ordered the U.S. Navy to forestall the CCP from attacking the ROC’s last redoubt. On June 29, 1950, an American aircraft carrier, heavy cruiser, and eight destroyers sailed into the Taiwan Strait to conduct a show of force within visual range of Communist forces arrayed along the mainland coast. Soon thereafter, armed American seaplanes were stationed on the Penghu Islands and began to search for any hostile movements toward Taiwan.
To further enhance its early-warning picture, the U.S. sent submarines to monitor Chinese ports across from Taiwan, areas where enemy vessels were expected to marshal if an invasion was imminent. In addition, four American destroyers were stationed in Taiwan. Their mission was to patrol near the coast of China, with at least two warships watching around the clock for signs of a pending amphibious assault. The Taiwan Patrol Force, as the mini-surveillance fleet became known, operated continuously for nearly three decades to come.
Soon thereafter, the U.S. established a defense command in Taipei and sent a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to Taiwan under the command of a two-star general. This organization was tasked with providing training, logistics, and weapons to the ROC military in order to develop it into a modern fighting force. By 1955, there were tens of thousands of American troops stationed in Taiwan, including over two thousand military advisors, making MAAG the largest of the U.S. advisory groups then deployed around the world. In the following years, MAAG transformed the ROC military into one of Asia’s most capable fighting forces.
The 1954–1955 Taiwan Strait Crisis
In August 1954, the Chinese Communists launched a string of operations against ROC forces along the mainland coast. Mao and his top lieutenants judged that by attacking the offshore islands they could drive Washington and Taipei apart and set the stage for a final invasion of Taiwan. They began by shelling Kinmen and Matsu, island groups located just off the coast of Fujian Province. Not long after, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched air and sea raids on the Dachens, a group of islands 200 miles north of Taiwan, near Taizhou in China’s Zhejiang Province.
In November 1954, the PLA encircled Yijiangshan, a ROC island base located at the extreme northern flank of the Dachens. Using modern equipment and tactics from the Soviet Union, the PLA carried out a successful invasion operation, taking the island on January 18, 1955. In response, the U.S. Navy steamed into the area with 70 ships, including seven aircraft carriers. The Americans then launched Operation King Kong, the evacuation of the Dachens. U.S. Marines assisted ROC forces to safely move some 15,000 civilians, 11,000 troops, 125 vehicles, and 165 artillery pieces back to Taiwan with no casualties.
On March 3, 1955, Washington formally cemented a mutual defense treaty with Taipei. President Dwight Eisenhower also received permission from Congress to exercise special powers in the defense of Taiwan, granted by the Formosa Resolution. In May 1955, the PLA stopped shelling Kinmen, and, three months later, the CCP released 11 captured American airmen. The 1954-1955 Taiwan Strait Crisis was over, but the standoff continued.
The 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis
On August 23, 1958, the PLA launched a surprise attack on Kinmen, showering the island group with tens of thousands of shells as a prelude to planned amphibious landings. Beijing sought to test the resolve of the Americans, seeing if the seizure of Kinmen and the threat of war could break the U.S.–ROC alliance apart and demoralize Taiwan. The plan failed almost immediately. ROC military engineers had tunneled deep into Kinmen’s granite, carving out subterranean bunkers and strongholds that allowed the defenders to weather the shelling with few casualties. The PLA made an amphibious assault on the nearby island of Tung Ting and was repulsed. To the north, Communist units launched artillery strikes against the Matsu Islands. But those were just as ineffectual.
The U.S. sent in four aircraft carriers, along with a large number of cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and amphibious ships. The American fleet was equipped with low-yield atom bombs, designed to stop a potential human-wave assault on the islands, a PLA tactic previously seen in Korea. After torpedo boats and artillery began to target ROC Navy ships resupplying Kinmen, the U.S. Navy began escorting the convoys from Taiwan with cruisers and destroyers. On September 18, 1958, American artillery guns were rolled ashore Kinmen, which were capable of firing tactical nuclear shells that could incinerate any invader (the shells were kept aboard U.S. Navy ships located nearby). The colossal guns also fired conventional rounds that increased the garrison’s firepower and morale.
During the crisis, ROC Air Force pilots used new Super Sabre jets and Sidewinder missiles to engage PLA MiG-17s in air-to-air combat. The results were decisive: ROCAF pilots achieved 33 enemy kills in return for the loss of four of their own. On October 6, Beijing announced a cease-fire under pressure from its Soviet allies, who feared the fighting could escalate and go nuclear. The 1958 Crisis was over and Taiwan’s offshore island bases remained undefeated.
The 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis
In the early 1990s, Taiwan began peacefully transitioning to a democracy. With the Cold War over, it seemed hopeful that the U.S. and other nations would recognize Taiwan as a legitimate, independent country. Taiwan’s president, Lee Teng-hui, publicly signaled that, in his view, the Chinese Civil War was over; Taiwan was now the ROC, the ROC was Taiwan, and his country would no longer claim sovereignty over territory controlled by the authorities in Beijing.
In June 1995, President Lee returned to his alma mater, Cornell University, to announce Taiwan’s plans to hold free and fair elections. The CCP responded by conducting a series of ballistic missile tests, firing rockets into the waters north of Taiwan. In August, the PLA moved a large number of troops to known invasion staging areas, conducted naval exercises, and carried out further missile firings. That November, the Chinese military staged an amphibious assault drill. In March 1996, just before the elections, the PLA fired more ballistic missiles into waters directly off Taiwan’s two largest ports, and implicitly threatened to turn a planned exercise into a real invasion operation.
The U.S. played an important role throughout the crisis. President Bill Clinton responded to Beijing’s provocations by sending two carrier battle groups to waters near Taiwan. The American demonstration succeeded: China backed down, and Taiwan’s elections went ahead as planned. President Lee won the elections with a decisive margin, and the 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis ended on a positive note. Nonetheless, Taiwan remained diplomatically isolated and has slowly become more vulnerable over time, a trend that continues unabated to present day.
Implications for the Future
While all historical analogies are imperfect, precedents previously set could provide American leaders with a guide in subsequent similar circumstances. The record of past policy decisions made by Washington demonstrates that, when tested, American presidents have always viewed it in their nation’s interest to come to Taiwan’s defense, even amid situations that could have escalated to the level of nuclear warfare. In 1958, for example, Washington was resolved to defend Taiwan against invasion even if that required the use of battlefield atomic weapons—and even if such usage invited nuclear retaliation from the Soviet Union, which was then closely aligned with Beijing.
Perhaps even more notable were those American leadership decisions undertaken in the 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. In that instance, the U.S. deployed aircraft carrier battle groups to waters near Taiwan in spite of the fact that the CCP had recently detonated two nuclear warheads at a test site; had carried out multiple tests of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles; and, in backchannel conversations, had implicitly threatened Los Angeles with nuclear attack. The resolve displayed by Washington in 1996 might be considered particularly remarkable given that the U.S. no longer diplomatically recognized Taiwan’s government at the time.
To date, there is no known case in which an American president failed to send forces to support the defense of Taiwan in response to a credible CCP threat. If this track record is indicative of future performance, the years ahead are likely to see the U.S. government continually improve its operational readiness to defend Taiwan in accordance with the evolving threat picture. In times of crisis, American leaders will likely send overwhelming national resources to the Taiwan Strait area and make their commitments to Taiwan’s defense more explicit in hopes of convincing the PRC to deescalate tensions.
Even barring a major political-military crisis, it seems probable that the years ahead will see the U.S. government improve its early-warning intelligence via regular ship, submarine, and aircraft patrols of the Taiwan Strait; more frequent overhead passes of space and near-space platforms; and expanded intelligence sharing arrangements with the Taiwanese security services. It also seems probable that the U.S. will make significant enhancements to its diplomatic, trade, intelligence, and military presence in Taiwan.
It remains an open question whether a Taiwan Patrol Force and MAAG-like organization will be reestablished—let alone an official country-to-country relationship and defensive alliance. But each could be considered past examples of political and military initiatives that, when combined, were successful in helping to deter CCP aggression. Herein we might find positive lessons for the future.
On August 1, 2021, Viktor Orban the long-serving Prime Minister of Hungary posted a photo on Viktor Orban/Facebook with Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson chatting amicably at the Prime Minister’s official residence situated in the Buda Castle’s historical Carmelite Monastery. To clarify the situation, Tucker Carlson tweeted: “We’re in Budapest all this week for Tucker CarlsonTonight and a documentary for Tucker Carlson Originals. Don’t miss our first show here starting tonight at 8 pm ET on #Fox News.”
Tucker Carlson’s interest primarily in Viktor Orban personally and secondarily in Hungary harks back to early 2019, when he rightly praised Viktor Orban’s opposition to Angela Merkel’s lax immigration policies. Yet, Viktor Orban’s resolute opposition to Angela Merkel’s and the European Union’s permissive immigration drive would have been more credible if he would not have granted either the equivalent of green cards or even citizenship to countless well-paying individuals as well as their families from Asia. His “humanitarian” largesses that mostly favored rich Chinese and Russian citizens have been performed in total secrecy, raising all kinds of rumors about his, his families’ and his close collaborators’ private dealings with tens of thousands of those individuals with overwhelmingly questionable background.
Artificially linking Viktor Orban’s anti-immigration stand to Europe’s declining birth rate in general and Hungary’s abysmal record of steady population decline, he extolled the prime minister thus: “Hungary’s Leaders actually care about making sure their own people thrive. Instead of promising the nation’s wealth to every illegal immigrant from the Third World, they’re using tax dollars to uplift their own people, imagine that.” Again, Tucker Carlson grossly embellished the Hungarian demographic situation. According to the Central Statistical Office (Hungarian acronyms: KSH), just in the first two months of 2021, the rate of population decline increased by a steep five percent. In the same period, the death rate increased by a whopping six-and-a-half percent. Meanwhile, the number of marriages decreased to 6,877 in the same period. These trends are nothing new in Hungary. Since Viktor Orban’s allegedly pro-Hungarian and pro-family policies, close to one million Hungarians left the country either permanently or temporarily. To add insult to injury, young people declare in unison all over the social media that they do not see their future secured in Hungary and leaving the country permanently.
Furthermore, in the same vein, Tucker Carlson opined: “Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has a different idea. Instead of abandoning Hungary’s young people to the hard-edge libertarianism of Soros and the Clinton Foundation, Orban has decided to affirmatively help Hungarian families grow.” In this manner, in addition to not reflecting reality, his praise of Viktor Orban’s stand on illegal immigration spookily mirrored Hungarian government propaganda. As a follow-up to his flattering comments, he invited in February 2019, the Orban-puppet political non-entity Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto to reinforce this narrative on his show.
To crown his sojourn to Hungary, Tucker Carlson sat down on August 5, 2021, for an interview with Viktor Orban and on August 7, 2021, addressed as the featured speaker the Mathias Corvinus Collegium Symposium, held between August 5th and 7th in the town of Esztergom at the bend of the Danube river. According to the Director-General of the Collegium, “the biggest name at the Mathias Corvinus Fest will undoubtedly be Tucker Carlson.” Both his interview and his speech were unmitigated disasters and made him permanently a laughing stock in Hungary. Except for their utter idiocy, neither highlight of his stay deserves detailed analysis. However, his senseless and unjustified denigration of the United States of America abroad merits a more comprehensive scrutiny.
The Collegium itself has been under the auspices of the Maecenas Universitatis Corvini Foundation, as does the University too, that was established under Law No. XXX of 2019. The Foundation has been endowed by Law No. XXVI of 2020, with many billions of Hungarian Forints (HUF), such as 82 million shares from the government-owned oil company (Hungarian acronyms: MOL), each share worth almost 2000 HUF, 19 million shares of the government-owned pharmaceutical company Richter, at about 7000 HUF each, and a variety of other government-controlled foundations as well as institutions that indirectly channeled government-endowed largesses in the tens of billions to the university. This Foundation is run by a Board of Directors (Kuratorium in Hungarian) selected exclusively by Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party with the absolute monopoly of power in Hungary. Nominally, the Collegium’s mission has been “talent development” of gifted Hungarian youth from all over the Carpathian Basin, meaning mainly ethnic Hungarian youth from the Ukraine, Romania and Slovakia.
For those who are not familiar with Hungarian history and geography, King Mathias, adoringly called Corvinus, ruled the Hungarian Kingdom from 1458 to 1490, and was dubbed the Renaissance King on the account of his progressive reforms and his marriage to an Anjou princess by the name Beatrice from Naples. The town of Esztergom has been the seat of the only Hungarian Catholic Cardinal, starting with Bishop Domonkos the First in 1001. For final historical accuracy, the Corvinus University of Budapest was named under the Communists the Marx Karoly (Karl Marx) Economics Scientific University.
To add intellectual cover to Tucker Carlson’s adventure to Hungary, Rod Dreher, a Senior Editor at the American Conservative, authored on August 4, 2021, a long article in the same publication under the title “Tucker To Hungary, Nixon To China.” Claiming “a personal intellectual investment in the Hungary story” and trying to justify his grandiose title as a conservative breakthrough toward a more sane and effective Republican policy against both the Democrat as well as Republican Establishments and their misguided supporters, he suggests that “Tucker to Hungary is a kind of Nixon to China for conservative American intellectuals and thought leaders.” Then follows an equally idiotic and confusingly discombobulated, grossly superficial and totally useless snippet of quotations from various writers, in which Rod Dreher attempts to show the difference between the allegedly uberliberal and unfree United States of America and the ideally much freer conservative Hungary.
With due respect for Rod Dreher’s “personal intellectual investment,” whatever it is, I would like to present my objective intellectual analysis as well as my learned opinion to his and to Tucker Carlson’s unprofessional as well as extremely irresponsible flirtation with Viktor Orban and his equally unserious creed.
For starters, some personal background. I was born and mostly educated in Hungary. After I took the Hungarian Bar for Judges and Prosecutors with distinction and oversaw all kinds of crimes in Hungary’s Communist society, I escaped to the Federal Republic of Germany. Following a stint with Radio Free Europe, I worked in Academia in Germany. Subsequently, I got an invitation from the United States Congress to join one of its research departments. When Ronald Reagan was elected, I was on loan first to the Supreme Court, then to Senator Orin Hatch’s office and later to the White House. I ended my government career as Congressman Christopher (Chris) Cox’s foreign affairs adviser. I published hundreds of articles as well as opinion pieces and authored several books. Already in 2005, I wrote an article about the real Viktor Orban under the title “Viktor Orban the Hungarian Chavez.” Very recently, I published three major analyses on the current situation in Hungary at www.ff.org. My aim with presenting my professional background is not to boast but to establish my credentials as knowing the United States of America and Hungary too, as opposed to the Monday Morning Quarterbacks of international relations like Rod Dreher and Tucker Carlson. So-called intellectuals should not lecture others for being ignorant of the world when they are guilty of the same offense.
Moreover, throughout my professional career, I have been a staunch conservative and a Republican. I wrote articles against George Soros and those who supported him either intellectually or politically. Until his commentaries about Hungary, I mostly have agreed with Tucker Carlson’s opinions, especially with regard to the overall situation in the United States of America. However, his lying about Hungary has turned him into an idiot. As a result, his reporting about Viktor Orban and the Hungarian situation has only shown glaring ignorance and shameful fakery. More dangerously, Tucker Carlson has positioned himself outside the intellectually objective and honest political debate in the United States of America, thus embarking on a zigzag course seeking to mix order and reform. Seeing himself as becoming the media-equivalent of the “Reagan conservative,” he is running into political as well as intellectual headwinds, because of his deficient intellect and compensatory arrogance.
Both of these qualities have been in full display during his short stay in Hungary. Limiting Viktor Orban’s policies to his justifiably firm response to illegal immigration and his “illiberal” responses to Brussels’ liberal value system are short-sighted and misleading. It would be more helpful to put the Viktor Orban phenomenon in the context of the post-Communist developments in the formerly Soviet Union-occupied region’s general and specific situations. Generally, all the countries that constituted the so-called Soviet Empire in Central and Eastern Europe have been in difficult transitions since 1990 from their original ubiquitously abnormal state to a more normal Western political, economic, cultural and ethical system. In this quest, some have been more successful than others. The Czech Republic and Slovenia have made the most progress. Behind these two states are Slovakia and Croatia. Romania and Bulgaria have been struggling to overcome corruption, poverty and political instability. Poland and Hungary have been the most complex and contradictory examples of the post-Communist parochial as well as global challenges. As far as Hungary is concerned, Balint Magyar published a thought-provoking article in Magyar Hirlap on February 22, 2001, in which he opined: “With the appointment of Lajos Simicska (a former close friend of Viktor Orban’s) as the head of APEH(acronyms for the Hungarian IRS) a new chapter begins. What has happened since means the introduction of the state employing mafia methods within the democratic institutional framework to systematically build up an “organized uberworld” [in Hungarian felvilag as opposed to alvilag that means underworld]. Later, the same author with the assistance of Balint Mladovics published a book titled The Anatomy of Post- Communist Regimes, in which they argue that the so-called linear transition theory cannot be applied for those regimes, because of their “moral inhibition” to consequently adopt liberal democracy. In conclusion, the authors coined the term “hibridology,” according to which those regimes are an inconsistent mixture of liberal and illiberal constructs.
Although I tend to agree in general with Balint Magyar, I think that the term “Mafia state” for Hungary is erroneous. In a Mafia state the government is transformed because the Mafia that develops parallel to the state gradually overtakes the local and central positions of political, economic and financial organizations. What has happened in Hungary since 1990 is exactly the opposite. First, politicians gained absolute political power through using and then abusing the democratic processes. After that, they turned the government into the instrument of their extreme lust for power and money. Therefore, I would rather use the term “Kleptocratic Absolutism” to describe the political regime of today’s Hungary.
The post-Communist so-called “Democratic Politicians” were either members of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (Hungarian acronyms: MSZMP) or non-party persons who elected to stay in the country and conform superficially to the norms as well as the abnormal values of the Communist dictatorship. The latter led a schizophrenic existence that made them hover between collusion with the regime or merger with the political and economic power holders. Clearly, neither the former members of the Communist elite nor the passive sympathizers espoused democracy or free market capitalism.
To add insult to injury, both groups unconditionally believed in the redeeming value of government institutions and their bureaucracies. Thus, instead of changing society by promoting new ideas, they tried to modify, but not reform, the existing government organizations, in order to transpose society and its mentality to their own bureaucratic image. Predictably, the results were devastating. The first democratically elected Antall government in 1990 was on a futile search for a new Hungarian business elite that would, in turn, finance the new-old bureaucracy forever. No wonder that corruption on the scale unimaginable even under the Communists has taken roots in the society. This government of supreme amateurs only lasted a single term. In 1994, the former Communists, their party rechristened to the “Hungarian Socialist Party” (Hungarian acronyms: MSZP) returned to power with an absolute parliamentary majority. Yet, to avoid being reminded of their one-party dictatorship, they allied themselves with the Free Democrats (Hungarian acronyms: SZDSZ) in an absolutely unworkable political alliance. In 1998, came Viktor Orban and his Young Democrats (Hungarian acronyms: FIDESZ) in alliance with the Smallholder Party (Hungarian acronyms: KGNP). First, Viktor Orban destroyed his coalition partners and then started to take over the political as well as business heights of powers. The first signs of Viktor Orban’s corrupt dictatorial mentality and his lust for money emerged. Suspicion of corruption and conspiracy theories were abound across Hungary. In 2002, his government was sent packing into opposition by the voters for eight long years. The former Communists were back in the saddle with their unloved Free Democrats.
In opposition, Viktor Orban behaved in a most undemocratic and disgusting manner. In addition to barely showing his face in the Parliament, he tirelessly incited his loyal Antifa-like mob to disrupt, threaten and destroy everything in their way. As a result, the years between 2002 and 2010 were the eight lost years for Hungary. Tired of the former Communists and the politically impotent Liberals, the Hungarian voters, in their desperate stupidity, gave Viktor Orban and his party an absolute parliamentary majority.
Viktor Orban’s second chance at absolute powers from 2010 would enter the annals of Hungarian political history as the rapid return to the one-party rule combined with the resurrected self-defeating “Magyar” (Hungarian) semi-Feudal mentality. Domestically, Viktor Orban has been convinced that he is the Messiah the Hungarians have waited for since the humiliating Trianon peace treaty in 1920. Better still, he has believed that he is infallible and possesses God-like qualities to decide by himself what is good for the nation and what is not. For these reasons, he has zero tolerance for any other opinion that happens not to be his. Therefore, he is convinced that he has every right to tyrannize the entire nation whose citizens he looks upon as his subjects.
To this end, his and his party’s first major political/legal act was in 2011 to pass a new constitution, which with its nine amendments thus far, has become a highly politicized instrument for political, economic and moral corruption. Naturally, more laws, decrees, regulations and an avalanche of government decisions have followed that have perpetuated his hold on the media, prescribed the limitations of free speech, the conduct of elections, the financing of political parties, and the obtrusive acquisition as well as shameless expropriation of the national wealth to his family and his chosen elementary, high school and university buddies.
To complete the creation of his absolutism, Viktor Orban and his pliant Parliament appointed a bunch of Yes-men to key and lesser important central and local government positions. In this manner, Janos Ader, the President of Hungary, has become the “signing automat” of every law having been passed by the Parliament without any regard to its constitutionality; Laszlo Kover, the Speaker of the Parliament, who rules with iron hand over the opposition and metes out insane amounts of fines exclusively against their members; Peter Polt, the Prosecutor General of Hungary, who sees his role to protect the Prime Minister and his close associates from domestic and foreign criminal prosecution; Sandor Pinter, the Minister of Interior, who does the same on the police investigation level; and Judit Varga, the Minister of Justice, who tries to explain why the frequent violations of the rule of law are more democratic than any legislation passed by the European Union, etc.
Thus, it beggars belief to hear Tucker Carlson claim incessantly that in Viktor Orban’s Hungary the people enjoy more freedom than in the United States of America and that in Hungary people fear less of the government than in the United States of America. As opposed to Tucker Carlson’s tendentious and misleading narrative, Hungary under Viktor Orban’s absolutism has turned into a closed stock company for the exploitation of the national wealth with profits shared exclusively among members of the government, parliamentarians and their privileged adherents, called in Hungarian slang the “Knights of the NER.” Most of them, including Viktor Orban, have entered government poor as Job, but in politics they have been elevated to millionaires and even billionaires. The Orban absolutism functions like a private business, in which each shareholder thinks of public affairs only insofar as he or she could turn his or her position into private profit. Money reigns supreme for a small minority, while the overwhelming majority of the population either lives in poverty or struggles to make ends meet on a monthly basis.
Meanwhile, the building of soccer stadiums, organizing international sport events, exhibitions, politically motivated financing of ethnic Hungarians across the neighboring countries, etc. have been in full swing for a decade. Unnecessary mega projects, such as the Budapest Belgrade railroad, the extension of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant in Paks, the construction of hotels that would never be filled with tourists, and the elevation of Viktor Orban’s birth place in Felcsut have been objects of nationwide derigion. On the other side of the coin, the once excellent Hungarian education system and the health industry have been run to the ground.
In this economically insane situation, a set of scandals has tarnished the so-called elite. Without going into the well-publicized details of those scandals, it should be sufficient to mention the fact that between 2015 and 2019, Hungary has headed the European Union’s anti-fraud investigation list. During this four year period, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) concluded forty three probes into misuse of funds where it found irregularities and recommended to the European Union Commission to recover some four percent of payments made to Hungary under the organization’s structural and independent funds and agriculture funds. In comparison, in all other member states the recommended rate of recovery of European Union money was below one percent. At the same period, the European Union average was 0.36 percent. Hypocritically, the Hungarian government defended itself by claiming that all the irregularities took place under the previous government. Just a humble note: Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party has enjoyed absolute power since 2010.
The most recent chaotic controversy again touches upon the suspicion of corruption in Hungary. At the center of this new scandal is the Norwegian government’s financial contribution to the NGOs operating in Hungary. The sum was 77 billion HUF, the equivalent of about 217.5 million Euros. The saga of the Norway project has had its origin in an agreement concluded in December 2020. Accordingly, the above quoted sum was designed to be distributed by an organization totally independent of the Hungarian government. The latter had seven months to designate such an organization. The Hungarian government missed the deadline and still demanded that the Norwegian Fund wire the money to Hungary. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry informed the Hungarian government in early August 2021, that it considers the agreement null and void, because of the Hungarian government’s breach of the agreement. Demonstrating that the word chutzpah has entered the vocabulary of the Hungarian government too, it first criticized Norway claiming that “Norway owes us this money,” since Oslo has benefited from its participation in the common market, despite not being a European Union member state. To show the seriousness, better defined as irrational greed, of the Hungarian government, Gergely Gulyas, the government’s spokesman, stated that Hungary is looking into the legal possibilities to obtain the Norwegian money. To support such a claim, the Hungarian government passed on August 6, 2021, Decision (in Hungarian: Kormany hatarozat) 1564/2021, in which the government instructs the competent ministries to launch a complaint against the “Nowegian Kingdom” concerning the latter’s failure to provide the said amount of money to Hungary.
In this single episode the entire mentality of the Viktor Orban-led regime is present. For Viktor Orban and his clique, politics, including international affairs, is not the art of settling controversies but of trying to intimidate and to shut up those who disagree with them. No wonder that the Viktor Orban regime is losing credibility at home as well as abroad.
With respect to the Viktor Orban-led regime’s international shenanigans, the most important facts have been its anti-American, anti-European and pro-Chinese, pro-Russian and to a lesser extent pro-Turkish policies. The gulf among the former and the close coordination among the latter are alarming, because the feeling of alienation on the one side and the hostile elation on the other are mutual. Increasingly, Viktor Orban is asking what NATO and the European Union would do for Hungary. Clearly, he is trying to use his allies to blackmail them into accepting his “illiberal democracy,” while offering Russia and China access to NATO and the European Union for personal favors. In this dangerous game, in which he could easily be eliminated as prime minister, Viktor Orban has turned Hungary into a state of lies, fear, intimidation and vicious rumors.
As this analysis demonstrates, occasionally small countries must struggle with great challenges too. Clearly, Hungary is at a crossroads. The upcoming national elections next spring will be crucial for the future of the country. Either Hungary will sink further into the swamp of Viktor Orban’s “Kleptocratic Absolutism,” or it will have a chance to rejoin as a democratic nation to the European Union and NATO. The opposition parties have forged a united front, but barely. Currently, their programs lack maturity. In order to succeed, they will have to come up with a more homogeneous set of political and economic messages. Yet, another election victory for Viktor Orban and his party would be unacceptable for Hungary and the West, including the United States of America, regardless of whether the Democrat or the Republican party controls the White House and Congress. For this reason alone, objective information about the situation in Hungary would have been in America’s national interest. Regrettably, Tucker Carlson’s week-long visit to the country did not serve this purpose.
Most importantly, Tucker Carlson appears to be in denial of Viktor Orban’s burgeoning authoritarian tendencies and endemic corruption both at home and abroad. He says nothing or very little about strengthening the ruthless manifestations of glaringly anti-democratic values, such as censorship and other restrictive measures that have become daily occurrences in Hungary. Even more alarmingly, Tucker Carlson is totally silent about the illegal spying on citizens, mainly opposition politicians and journalists. Finally, it is never a positive professional sign about the strength of one’s case when a journalist compares Viktor Orban’s dictatorial regime favorably to the current state of affairs in the United States of America. Thus, instead of presenting an explanation for his fallacious reporting, Tucker Carlson simply suppresses all the unpleasant and negative issues. To a real and knowledgeable journalist, the difference between fraudulent government propaganda and the reality must be self-evident. But not for Tucker Carlson who appears to be on a phony ideological mission. Recommending Viktor Orban’s Hungary worthy to be followed by the United States of America is inexcusably idiotic. In the end, Viktor Orban’s war on the Hungarian people and the West is not about politics. It is about culture and mentality. And in the long run, Western civilization carries far more weight than Viktor Orban’s and Tucker Carlson’s corrupt as well as bastard illiberal democracy.
Let's be honest: The right is making a forced retreat. Here's how we can make it a strategic one that sets our ideas up for better success in the long run.
Joe Biden’s inauguration is a sad day for those of us on the right, and it’s not just because — either through actual votes or through deliberate election confusion — we lost the Senate and presidency. It’s because so many of us are deeply aware of what Democrat reign means.
It means the acceleration of mass murder and forcing taxpayers to pay for it. It means, as my boss Ben Domenech puts it, “nuns are back on the menu.” It means, as I’ve pointed out, the increase of public schools destroying children’s innocence and facilitating minors’ access to drugs that enable HIV-positive sex. It means an entrenchment of the institutional racism of critical race theory in every institution possible, also pushed by taxpayer funds.
It means Democrats rig more structures of American life against those who disagree with them, possibly preventing us from ever having a meaningful voice in our own governance again. It means the proliferation of government spending that accelerates our nation’s likelihood of devastating economic collapse. It means frighteningly labeling half the country “domestic terrorists,” a label that prepares for stripping more of our rights. All this, in turn, makes us increasingly vulnerable to foreign enemies, propagandists, and demagogues.
This is a weight that is difficult for the perceptive to bear. Those of us who deeply treasure what makes America itself are again staring into the abyss of the genuine possibility that what we love about our country may be truly lost forever, as not just lambasted authors of Flight 93 essays but also highly studied, more tonally measured observers such as Charles Murray think is quite clear from the data.
While these losses do mean the increase of genuine moral evils and therefore deserve to be mourned, all is not lost. Yes, we’re forced to retreat, but let it be a strategic, orderly, cunning retreat, not a chaotic retreat that breaks into a rout.
There are now numerous strategic advantages and strategies available to the people who love America, if we choose to employ and enlarge them. With them we may begin, if not to “save America,” at least to enlarge some space for living more closely to America’s founding principles than we inhabit now and to mitigate the evils that are to come.
Those of us who have been paying attention are now highly aware that corporate media and corporate tech are a bicephalic propaganda monster. We’ve learned through a 2020 of constant lies, information control, and gaslighting — from COVID to Hunter Biden — that the quickest way to guess the truth is, as in communist countries, to read what state media are saying and then assume the opposite.
While it’s frightful that corrupt, pedophile-enabling corporate media control our lives right down to the air we are allowed to breathe and whether we are allowed to honestly support our families, and that the majority of Americans either believe their outright lies or are heavily influenced by them, this knowledge is also highly useful. For it means that Americans are not necessarily supportive of socialism and baby murder and all the other things that Democrats do when in power. It means that our country still includes a lot of well-meaning people who love America but have been deeply deceived enough to turn it over to its worst enemies.
This means Democrats do not have, in any way, shape, or form, a mandate to perpetrate the policies upon which they are about to embark. Their empire is built on a throne of lies. And empires like that are weak and unstable, as Democrats’ fortification of the capitol and crazy accusations that U.S. soldiers who voted for Trump are traitors also projects.
This weakness means danger, but also opportunity. We must be ready to bind up the wounds and welcome to our ranks those the left’s culture war has devastated. We must do our utmost to dispel the lies that give the left power. Information warfare — in education and media contexts, primarily — should be a top priority.
Additionally, this means (metaphorical) war against corporate and tech media dominance is highly needed and will be effective. It has plenty of room and need for growth. It also means that citizens need to do more to combat media lies and provide the basic information Americans need and which big media takeovers have entirely hollowed out. Their lies need to not only be exposed, but replaced with truth.
I’d start with forming local blogs focused on local information-sharing about basic entities like the school board, city council, election laws and procedures, and district attorney. It’s not that hard to go to a meeting and write a 800-word summary of what happened. Get a dozen friends and divide up the job.
Ask DA and county sheriff’s candidates their positions on the crazy things Democrats are doing like springing rioters and enabling opioid spread, and publish what they do or don’t say. Stop railing on Facebook and start attending public meetings and writing about them on your own local group blog.
As a part of Democrats’ lack of awareness they lack a mandate other than “don’t be Trump,” they are going to overshoot, big time. They are going to enact many extremist ideas. Even the propaganda media won’t be able to entirely hide this from Americans. And there will be backlash.
This will heighten the contradictions between Democrat leadership and many current Democrat base voters who are staying with the party even though its priorities hurt them and the nation. The lack of Trump as an all-purpose leftist scapegoat will assist with this.
As has been widely noted, Trump was able to break through some of the racial stereotypes about what it means to be a Republican or Democrat and earn more nonwhite support. With him in retirement, those of us on the right have the opportunity to continue making his case without being saddled with his baggage.
This is a huge opportunity. Without Trump to use as an excuse for everything, Democrats are going to provide clarity to many more voters that they are actually the totalitarians they project onto the right. They are going to harass nuns, foster parents and agencies, Christian camps, and minorities who disagree with them. They are going to be more obviously the party of the rich and corrupt.
It’s a bad look. And it will turn voters away. Again, we need to be ready to welcome these voters even if they are not ideologically “pure.” I’d rather have a wasteful social welfare state that murders fewer babies, supports free speech, and doesn’t harass nuns than a corporate welfare state that harasses the poor and religious. If that is the tradeoff we get, I’ll take it.
In the wake of the capitol riots that weren’t perpetrated by Black Lives Matter, big corporations and chambers of commerce have pulled their high-dollar donations from many Republicans and Republican political funds. Good.
For years, elected Republicans offered lip service and placebos to their base voters and did what big corporate donors actually wanted, which hurt their voters and structurally undermined their long-term support, such as through mass illegal immigration. This has rightly fueled the public perception that Republicans care only about money and rich people, rather than an equal playing field for all and the common good. Now without those donations, they have no reason to offend and harm large numbers of voters to suck up to a small number of donors. This will make them more competitive and less corrupt.
Behavior like the below, for example, will erase the financial incentive for Republican officeholders to provide special breaks and bailouts for businesses that pay politicians big money to slant the legal playing field in their favor. Trump has made for a GOP that is far more competitive in the small-dollar online donor space. This will further help low-information voters see that Democrats are the party of the corrupt at the expense of the people, and make the GOP less so.
COVID shutdowns with no end in sight are a violation of our natural, constitutional, and human rights. However, as with a Biden administration coming to power, this evil also will cause damage to those who attempt to wield it against their enemies.
It will mean a quicker downfall of many corrupted institutions, from “churches” that don’t proclaim orthodox theology losing parishioners who will never come back from “virtual church” to the death of higher education institutions that have been colluding with corrupt politicians to scam gullible young people out of their futures.
Our country is populated by people who fail to the top. But the more of them there are, the more enemies they make and the weaker their rigged systems become. And the more aware their opponents and the people caught in the middle become of their decay.
This will mean more cultural, theological, and philosophical refugees. Ready the lifeboats for them now.
Let every locale where it is possible create the most secure voting systems in the world. Let every locale where it is possible elect and support sheriffs who will not allow a Biden administration to crush Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Let every Republican governor and member of Congress who has lost corporate support now make a ruthless plan to eliminate corporate favors from the entire legal code over which they have jurisdiction.
Let every single town board and town council put Comcast, Verizon, and all other ISPs and broadband providers on notice that if they do not adhere to First Amendment protections for all customers, these local governments will be finding another business to profit from the public infrastructure in their towns. Let every single legislature controlled by Republicans ban the institutional racism of critical race theory in every single public workplace in their state, including universities and public schools. If every elected Republican will not support this, they should be put on record explaining why not, by citizens and their local news blogs.
If the United States is to live under neo-feudalism, in which our rights are subject to the whim of whoever is in power and shift with every election instead of being protected forever equally for all under the Constitution, then let these neo-feudal lords begin to stake their territorial claims and protect their citizens as best they can, severing the levers the abusers of our rights deploy against us (such as federal funding).
Let sanctuary cities and states no longer be only for California. It will be a good thing for the federal government to have more difficulty forcing its schemes on states and local governments.
All this will only accelerate the migration from blue to red states that is already underway.
The sheer extent of the degradation of America’s founding principles and the citizenry who once had the character to live under them clarifies what is at stake. No longer can we pretend that identity group “antidiscrimination” rules are compatible with equal protection or the First Amendment. No longer can we pretend that a government that can dole out unfathomable amounts of money can do so without corrupting both those who give and those who receive this false charity.
We now live among the real-world results of implementing leftist ideology, and it’s not pretty. And no one can really deny it. This is why Democrats take refuge in the culture war, the cult at the core of their secular religion — they have nothing left to offer the masses but bread and circuses.
This is pushing people to make significant life changes towards a more meaningful and integrity-filled way of life, and to seek other people to join this journey. It is also pushing the truly awake people — and a few of our lawmakers — to reach down into the well of first principles to find water in a parched land. This well is an abundant source of life and renewal that many people would not seek if life stayed comfortable.
This is precisely the time for we anti-wokesters to coalesce around principles on which we can all agree. This may be our only hope of survival, in fact. As in the Cold War era, to defeat our common foe we need a broader coalition that is necessarily going to include a lot of people who disagree on a lot of particulars.
To work out our strategies and points of agreement to fight not against each other but against our common foe in the ideology of the totalitarian left, we need to encourage more speech, not less. We need to engage more points of view and be willing to let more people speak, not fewer. We need to not be primarily attacking and tone-policing people of good will who love our country, but primarily facing outward at the barbarians who control the gates and want to destroy our country.
This doesn’t mean there are no morals, that people should be relieved of the burden of proving their assertions, or that we should elevate the voices of people who believe things that have been soundly proven to be wrong (such as Holocaust deniers). It means, however, that instead of banning them from the Internet or refusing to allow them to air their ideas, we should listen with empathy and try to understand their points of view. Our primary orientation should be persuasion, conversion, discussion, and openness, not eradication.
Instead of shutting people up because we disagree with their conclusions, we should ask them to prove their assertions and explain what led them to their stances, as James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian recommend in their excellent book. If it works with Ku Klux Klan members and people in divorce counseling, it can help our country too.
As regarding the capitol rioters, the propaganda narrative depicts us and Trump making a cacophonous, beaten-puppy exit. But in fact, as this week’s impeachment vote and more prove, we are highly unified. The outliers are given outsized voices by corporate media to deceive and demoralize us.
We are not like these rioters in any way, including in making an ignominious exit. Yes, we’re headed for the wilderness circuit that befalls a party out of power, but the truth is, we’ve been out of power this whole time. Trump was undermined and lied to continuously by every branch of the government he was elected to command. The past four years have made this and many other truths much plainer to see. Seeing clearly makes it possible and necessary for us to act prudently.
Being in the wilderness also has its advantages. They include loyalty — not sycophancy, but loyalty of the kind that only arises amid brothers and sisters in arms under constant attack. It teaches us to sacrifice, to become tougher, leaner, smarter, more agile. These are all great assets that may or may not give us a political advantage here in this temporal life, but absolutely make us better fit for eternal life. And the left can never truly command people whose souls are free, no matter how strong they appear to be.
By giving comfort to China's evil regime, the New York Times is showing its true colors.
The New York Times has a long, sordid history of being in bed with brutal authoritarian regimes. From Walter Duranty praising the goodness of the Soviet Union to the Times’ gentle treatment of Adolf Hitler, the paper of record is always on board with tyranny. The current generation of gatekeepers at the Gray Lady is no exception. In a shocking and sickening article this week, author Li Yuan celebrates Chinese “freedom.”
The article beams about how China has gotten its society back to normal after unleashing a deadly plague on the planet and lying about it. They eat in restaurants, they go to movies, and they are free from fear. They have the freedom to move around, the Times proclaims, assuring us this is the “most basic form of freedom.” Really? Do the 1 million Uighurs currently in concentration camps have “freedom of movement”? They must have been unavailable for comment, as they aren’t mentioned once in this advertisement for the Chinese Communist Party.
It would be one thing if the New York Times were dedicated to offering space for a wide range of opinions, even borderline evil ones such as this absurd article offers. But this is the same newspaper that took down a piece by Sen. Tom Cotton because it suggested using the National Guard to protect cities being burned and looted by leftist radicals. That opinion was a bridge too far, but shilling for a regime that does not allow free speech and forces sterilization is just asking questions.
Freedom from fear. My God. Is this what America has become? Are we ready to take the advice of our nation’s most powerful newspaper and throw away our right to speech, religion, democracy, and family in the sad search for some impossible form of perfect safety? The behavior of many Americans during the lockdowns suggests that some are. The rest of us, those who love liberty, must fight back.
It’s not just the New York Times; take a look at this gem from The Economist.
A “more Chinese-style global industry”? What does that mean? Slave labor? It’s efficient, it lowers prices, and the slaves might well be kept free from disease so they live long productive lives doing exactly what their government tells them to do. This is a warning. Those in power in the media, so wedded to big tech and multinational corporations, seem just fine with a world in which you have no freedom and they use your labor to make billions in the name of safety and freedom from fear.
This is America, God dammit, and the New York Times can go to hell. These people have lectured us for four years about Donald Trump supposedly trampling the norms of American democracy, and now they turn around and tell us we should be more like China? This is much more than a culture war at this point. This is a fight for the very soul of the greatest nation on earth — which, even though the Times doesn’t know it, is the United States, not the People’s Republic of China.
Useful idiocy is reaching new heights. China’s hooks are so deeply embedded in our media that it can’t even call out slavery and concentration camps. Meanwhile, in China, printing even a gentle gibe at Xi Jinping can get you killed. Is that the glorious new form of freedom that our betters want for us? Does the New York Times want the government to tell them what to publish? I honestly don’t know the answer to that at this point.
Let us be clear, the Chinese Communist Party is an evil, repressive, and murderous regime. It is not the future of freedom. It is not setting an example that free people should or will follow. And we won’t. Unlike in China, Americans have 400 million guns, and if our government tries to take the New Times’ advice and crush our freedoms, they will hear them roar. This is a time for choosing. This is a time to stand up and say that our rights come from God, not the government or the New York Times. Stand up, America, before it is too late.
Last Sunday I plopped a steaming hashbrown casserole and a bowl of freshly sliced oranges down on one of a row of endless folding tables covered in those flimsy plastic tablecloths you get at the dollar store. The casseroles were outnumbered only by the pans of homemade cinnamon rolls, and the fruit section was meager: it was a good Southern Baptist potluck.
Church ladies buzzed around, removing tin foil from tin pans and putting serving spoons in each dish, while others flipped pancakes on a portable griddle. Rows of chairs and tables were set up under the oak trees and the typical Florida December weather made me regret wearing a sweater. I loaded my plate with food and it wasn’t until I sat down that I had an epiphany: I had missed potlucks. Thanks to coronavirus, I guess buffet-style anything has become terribly unstylish in some places.
Until recently, I’ve been at school in Loudoun County, Virginia, where Gov. Ralph Northam has been busy inflicting harsher shutdown orders. Masks are required almost everywhere up there, and big gatherings are out of the question. Multiple friends had to cancel their wedding receptions this month due to the new restrictions.
I got so used to wearing a mask that every time I watched a movie it seemed odd for the actors to be bare-faced. Leaving a store, sometimes I’d make it all the way to the car before even realizing I still had my mask on.
It wasn’t until I came home to Florida — where COVID-19 restrictions are much freer and usually left to local government — that I noticed how different life was. On my flight home, I reached from my seat by the window to hand my snack wrapper to the flight attendant. The older gentleman next to me took it from my hand to pass it along. It caught me off guard: this stranger was willing to touch something that I had eaten from? He wasn’t afraid of my germs?
Thoughtful gestures that had always been normal suddenly seemed surprising — which made me realize how many of those everyday connections we’ve lost this year. Since I’ve spent some time in Florida, life has felt incredibly normal. It’s also revealed how abnormal the lifestyle I followed in Virginia really was.
For one, I didn’t realize how much I was missing by not seeing people’s faces. I don’t object to people wearing masks if they feel safer; it’s their personal health decision. But when I arrived at the airport to see my family for the first time since August (mid-semester breaks were another COVID casualty), I could actually see their faces.
I went to a café to study the other day and walked past a young pregnant mother with her toddler in tow. None of us were masked, and the toddler and I got to smile and wave at each other as we passed.
Even things that used to annoy me reminded me of what I had missed. I had to slow down for a school zone the other day because kids were actually in school. I never knew I could feel so much joy at slowing down to 20 miles per hour. There were elementary school kids running around the playground for recess.
The downtown scene here is even further proof that people are living their normal lives, unobstructed by fear. My family went out to dinner the other night at a patio bar overlooking our downtown square, all lit up for Christmas. Families took Christmas photos in front of the lighted trees, and others caught rides in horse-drawn carriages circling the block. The patio was packed with guests from a wedding that had just taken place; it was a huge party, unlike the sweet but limited ceremonies my friends were forced to have in Virginia.
While the chain coffee shops like Starbucks and Dunkin’ are closed to indoor patrons, my favorite local coffeeshop is open and more popular than ever. (And why buy overpriced, mediocre chain coffee anyway?) Looking around, I only see one customer wearing a mask, and only one of the baristas.
There’s a sign taped to the door that says, “The city council feels it is at their best interset to infringe upon your personal constitutional right and feel they can manage your life better than you. We will not do this…we will not force you to wear a mask!”
“All are welcome and we appreciate your supporting local,” the sign adds. I went Saturday morning with my family and we had to wait for a table; we ran into an old friend while we were there. That same day, we went to the downtown farmers’ market. Vendors offered free samples and sold fresh produce, a live musician sang “Folsom Prison Blues,” and no one told me to wear a mask.
I’ve flown in and out of the Orlando airport all my life, and I’ve never seen it half as crowded as it was this month. I can only guess that people are coming down to Florida because it’s open here. People are taking precautions, sure, but they’re also continuing to live their lives.
We’re having friends over and going to church. We’re going out for dinner and drinks, and supporting local farmers and artisans. We’re celebrating marriages and smiling at strangers. And we’re eating a lot of hashbrown casserole.
With safe and effective vaccines starting to be distributed, the public can see light at the end of the very long and dark COVID-19 tunnel. Not so fast, our moral betters are starting to say.
In recent days, as people start to benefit from the modern medical miracle of a vaccine developed within a year, so-called experts are lining up to warn people against thinking that they can begin to resume normal activity soon.
“Just because you get vaccinated with that second dose does not mean you should be participating in things like traveling in the middle of an out-of-control pandemic or that you’re liberated from masks,” Vin Gupta, an assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said on MSNBC. “Everything still applies until all of us hit the two-dose regimen, and we don’t think that’s going to happen until June/July.”
Similar warnings are starting to proliferate in the scaremongering news media.
Even now, many of the restrictions on activity are arbitrary, and often, the most sanctimonious leaders are the ones caught abusing their own draconian measures. Schools remain closed in much of the country despite a mountain of evidence showing that children have low odds of getting seriously ill or widely spreading the virus, and that remote learning is having a devastating impact on educational and emotional development, particularly among the least privileged.
To be clear, there is no doubt that we are now in a difficult stage of the pandemic, with outbreaks throughout the nation and a daily death toll of around 3,000 people. It is conceivable that we’ll end up with a half-million COVID-19 deaths by the time vaccination has become widespread.
But we will be in a much different place a few months from now. Based on the commitments already made and the expected speed of distribution, it is anticipated that roughly 100 million members of the public will be able to be vaccinated in this country by the end of March. That should be more than enough to offer protection to the populations most vulnerable to COVID-19.
There are about 50 million people aged 65 years and older, and that group has accounted for about 80% of coronavirus deaths. So, not only should there be enough doses to vaccinate everybody in this group as well as medical workers in the coming months, but there will still be tens of millions of more doses available to administer to those under 65 who have some sort of health condition that leaves them more vulnerable to the disease.
On top of that, there are tens of millions of people who have already had COVID-19, and over a million a week are getting it. That means in addition to the 100 million vaccinated by spring, there will be millions of others who have developed antibodies from having survived the virus.
By the end of March, the worst of winter will be over, and most parts of the country will start to see warmer weather.
None of this means COVID-19 will be eradicated or that we will have achieved herd immunity. But it does mean that, barring any setbacks in vaccination, the virus should cease by April to be the danger it was when the whole country was shut down.
If we flashback to March, the original justification for draconian lockdown orders was that it was necessary to flatten the infection curve so there wasn’t a huge spike at any given time sufficient to overwhelm the medical system. Severe restrictions persisted well beyond that, and the justification was that the disease still posed too much risk to older and vulnerable populations.
If the older and vulnerable are vaccinated by the spring, however, there is absolutely zero reason to justify maintaining public restrictions until everybody gets vaccinated, a process that could spill into the fall or later.
If you take 100 million of the most vulnerable people out of the equation, the fatality rate will plunge, and the virus will start to resemble the seasonal flu in its effects, which we endure without shutdowns.
Political leaders keep shifting the goal posts on COVID-19. It was about flattening the curve. It was about slowing the spread. It was about protecting the most vulnerable. Now that we have a vaccine that carries the promise of protecting the most vulnerable within months, the goal post must not be allowed to shift again to universal vaccination.
Life lessons from the dissident, politician, and activist
Natan Sharansky has been a computer scientist, a chess player, a refusenik, a dissident, a political prisoner, a party leader, a government minister, a nonprofit executive, and a bestselling author. He never expected to be a school counselor.
But the coronavirus dashes expectations. In early March, when the virus began to appear in Jewish communities outside New York City, Sharansky found himself online, in an unaccustomed position. He began to share with students and parents whose schools were closed how he had coped during years in confinement.
“At first, it seemed absurd, even obscene,” Sharansky writes in his latest book, Never Alone, coauthored with the historian Gil Troy. “How could my experience of playing chess in my head in my punishment cell compare to being cooped up in gadget-filled homes wired to the internet—with computer chess—especially because this isolation is imposed to protect people, not break them?”
What Sharansky realized is that the costs of lockdowns do not depend on the reasons behind them. The sudden and seemingly arbitrary interruption of individual plans, movements, and relationships causes psychological harm. Sharansky recorded a brief YouTube video for the Jewish Agency—you can watch it here—offering his five tips for quarantine. Recognize the importance of your choices and behavior, Sharansky advised. Understand that some things are beyond your control. Keep laughing. Enjoy your hobbies. Consider yourself part of a larger cause.
“Surprisingly,” Sharansky writes, “this short clip went viral, reaching so many people all over the world within a few days that it made me wonder why even bother writing this book.” His reaction was another example of his droll and often self-deprecating wit. The video, however helpful it may be, does not match the power and wisdom of Never Alone. Part autobiography, part meditation on Jewish community, the book ties together the themes of Sharansky’s earlier work, from his prison memoir, Fear No Evil (1988), to his defense of cultural particularity, Defending Identity (2008). It is a moving story of emancipation and connection, of freedom and meaning.
Sharansky was born in 1948 in the Ukrainian city of Stalino. His given name was Anatoly. His parents were educated professionals who downplayed their Jewish identity. They did not want to risk political and social reprisal. “The only real Jewish experience I had was facing anti-Semitism,” he writes. The precocious youth spent his early years playing chess. He learned to navigate a Soviet system that maintained its rule through fear. He became captive to doublethink. He repeated official lies and myths not because it was the right thing to do, but because it was the safe thing to do.
Sharansky enrolled in the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. “I dived into the republic of science,” he writes. “This world seemed insulated from the doublethink I had mastered at home.” Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War prompted him to discover his heritage. “Realizing how little I knew about this country that so many people were now asking about made me hungry to learn more.”
Sharansky studied representations of Biblical scenes hanging from the walls of Moscow’s galleries. He came across a samizdat copy of Leon Uris’s Exodus, a potboiler historical fiction that describes Israel’s founding. “It drew me into Jewish history, and Israel’s history, through my Russian roots. It helped me see myself as part of the story.”
The following year the Soviet nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov wrote his “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom.” Sakharov argued for freedom of inquiry. He demanded the protection of human rights. “Sakharov was warning that life in a dictatorship offers two choices: either you overcome your fear and stand for truth, or you remain a slave to fear, no matter how fancy your titles, no matter how big your dacha,” Sharansky writes. “Ultimately, I couldn’t escape myself or my conscience.”
Inspired by Sakharov, Sharansky applied for a visa to immigrate to Israel in 1973. He was rejected. He was unable to leave the Soviet Union. That made him a refusenik. “My life as a doublethinker, which I had consciously begun at age five the day Stalin died, was over. The professional world I had built for myself, my castle of science, collapsed instantly. Now, I could say what I thought, do what I said, and say what I did.”
The twin concerns of Sharansky’s life—identity and freedom—became fused. “Democracy—a free life in a free society—is essential because it satisfies a human yearning to choose one’s path, to pursue one’s goals,” he wrote in Defending Identity. “It broadens possibilities and provides opportunity for self-advancement. Identity, a life of commitment, is essential because it satisfies a human longing to become part of something bigger than oneself. It adds layers of meaning to our lives and deepens the human experience.” Freedom offers choice. Identity provides direction.
It would be a while before Sharansky could enjoy his own freedom. By 1975, he was working with Sakharov. The next year he formed the Moscow Helsinki Group to pressure the Soviets to live up to the commitments they had made in basket three of the Helsinki Accords. The KGB arrested him in 1977. “I spent the next nine years in prison and labor camp,” he wrote in Fear No Evil, “mainly on a special disciplinary regime, including more than 400 days in punishment cells, and more than 200 days on hunger strikes.”
In prison he played chess games in his head. “I always won.” He would tease the guards with anti-Soviet jokes. He was not afraid. What could they do—put him in jail? He communicated with his fellow inmates through morse code. They would drain the toilets and speak to one another through pipes. He read Soviet propaganda esoterically, between the lines. He figured out what was actually going on by determining what the authorities had omitted.
Sharansky was in prison when he heard that President Ronald Reagan had called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire.” The year was 1983. Reagan had uttered the famous—and controversial—words in a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. “It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations, and we all instantly knew it,” Sharansky said in a 2004 interview. “For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now. This was the end of Lenin’s ‘Great October Bolshevik Revolution’ and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution—Reagan’s Revolution.”
Sharansky and his wife Avital had been apart since her immigration to Israel the day after they married in 1974. Throughout his imprisonment she worked tirelessly on his behalf, and on behalf of other refuseniks and dissidents. She found an ally in Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Benjamin Netanyahu. She met with Reagan, who began asking Soviet leaders to release Sharansky. Gorbachev freed him on February 11, 1986. He was reunited with Avital in Frankfurt Airport. They flew to Israel. “‘It was just one long day,’ Avital sighed later that night, in our new home in Jerusalem. ‘I arrived in Israel in the morning. You arrived in the evening. It was just one very, very long day in between.’”
He became Natan. He entered Israeli politics. He helped resettle one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He opposed the Oslo peace accords. He resigned from Ariel Sharon’s government over the policy of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. His work as an activist was devoted to building what Reagan had described as “the infrastructure of democracy.” Sharansky distinguished between free societies and fear societies. “The structural elements that enable democratic societies to respect human rights—independent courts, the rule of law, a free press, a freely elected government, meaningful opposition parties, not to mention human rights organizations—were all glaringly absent in fear societies,” he wrote in The Case for Democracy (2004).
Sharansky’s career resists summary. It offers lessons in courage, freedom, justice, belonging, and hope. What makes his example especially relevant is his insistence that freedom and identity, liberty and tribe, are not just compatible but codependent. “To have a full, interesting, meaningful life,” he writes in Never Alone, “you have to figure out how to be connected enough to defend your freedom and free enough to protect your identity.” The same puzzle confronts nations. “Benefiting from the best of liberalism and the best of nationalism, together we can champion the joint mission to belong and to be free as both central to human happiness.”
Governments establish the conditions of liberty. But identity must come from below. The most positive and enduring sources of identity are not found in politics. They are located in civil society. The institutions of family, faith, and community tell us who we are, what we want, where we should turn.
People are antecedent to government. And they must remain so, if democracy is to survive. This is the unforgettable teaching of Natan Sharansky, hero and champion of freedom.
I remember this one teacher. To me, he was the greatest teacher, a real sage of my time. He had such wisdom. We were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and he walked over. Mr. Lasswell was his name….He said:
“I’ve been listening to you boys and girls recite the Pledge of Allegiance all semester and it seems as though it is becoming monotonous to you. If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word:
I – me, an individual, a committee of one.
PLEDGE – dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self-pity.
ALLEGIANCE – my love and my devotion.
TO THE FLAG – our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there is respect because your loyalty has given her dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job.
OF THE UNITED – that means that we have all come together.
STATES OF AMERICA – individual communities that have united into [our] great states. . . individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose, all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that’s love for country.
AND TO THE REPUBLIC – a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people and it’s from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.
FOR WHICH IT STANDS.
ONE NATION – meaning, so blessed by God.
INDIVISIBLE – incapable of being divided.
WITH LIBERTY – which is freedom and the right of power to live one’s own life without threats or fear or some sort of retaliation.
AND JUSTICE – the principle or quality of dealing fairly with others.
FOR ALL – which means it’s as much your country as it is mine.”
Since I was a small boy, two states have been added to our country and two words have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance – “under God”.
Wouldn’t it be a pity if someone said, “That’s a prayer” and that would be eliminated from schools, too?
We should be preserving our laws and our freedom in times of crisis.
It’s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of Americans process news and data, and calculate that self-quarantining, wearing masks, and social distancing make sense for themselves, their families, and the country. Free people act out of self-preservation, but they shouldn’t be coerced to act through the authoritarian whims of the state. Yet this is exactly what’s happening.
There has been lots of pounding of keyboards over the power grabs of authoritarians in Central and Eastern Europe. Rightly so. Yet right here, politicians act as if a health crisis gives them license to lord over the most private activities of America people in ways that are wholly inconsistent with the spirit and letter of the Constitution.
I’m not even talking about national political and media elites who, after fueling years of hysteria over the coming Republican dictatorship, now demand Donald Trump dominate state actions. I’m talking about local governments.
Under what imperious conception of governance does Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer believe it is within her power to unilaterally ban garden stores from selling fruit or vegetable plants and seeds? What business is it of Vermont or Howard County, Ind., to dictate that Walmart, Costco, or Target stop selling “non-essential” items, such as electronics or clothing? Vermont has 628 cases of coronavirus as of this writing. Is that the magic number authorizing the governor to ban people from buying seeds for their gardens?
Maybe a family needs new pajamas for their young kids because they’re stuck a new town. Or maybe mom needs a remote hard drive to help her work remotely. Or maybe dad just likes apples. Whatever the case, it’s absolutely none of your mayor’s business.
It makes sense for places like Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland to ban large, avoidable gatherings. But it is an astonishing abuse of power to issue stay-at-home orders, enforced by criminal law, empowering police to harass and fine individuals for nothing more than taking a walk.
The criminalization of movement ends with ten Philly cops dragging a passenger off a bus for not wearing a face mask. It ends with local Brighton, Colo., cops handcuffing a father in front of his family for playing T-ball with his daughter in an empty park. It ends with three Massachusetts men being arrested, and facing the possibility of 90 days in jail, for crossing state lines and golfing — a sport built for social distancing — in Rhode Island.
There is no reason to close “public” parks, where Americans can maintain social distance while getting some air or space for their mental and physical well-being — or maybe see a grandchild from afar. In California, surfers, who stay far away from each other, are banned from going in the water. Elsewhere, hikers are banned from roaming the millions of acres in national parks. Millions of lower-income and urban-dwelling Americans don’t have the luxury of backyards, and there is absolutely no reason to inhibit their movement, either.
Two days before Easter, Louisville, Ky., mayor Greg Fischer attempted to unilaterally ban drive-in church services for the most holy day in Christianity. It’s one thing if people are purposely and openly undermining public health. The constitutional right to assemble peacefully and protest or practice your religion, however, is not inoperable in presence of a viral pandemic.
Would-be petty tyrants, such as Dallas judge Clay Jenkins, who implores residences to rat out neighbors who sell cigarettes for “putting profits over public health,” forgets that we are not ruled by him, and that he is merely our temporary servant.
But it’s important and necessary, say the experts. Great. Convince us. Most polls show that 80-something percent of Americans will stay home for the rest of this month even if lockdowns are lifted.
The question of how many lives would be lost if we didn’t shut down economy is a vital one, but it is not the only one. There is an array of factors that goes into these decisions. One of them should be preserving our laws and our freedom in times of crisis.
“Reality check,” writes Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian in Axios, “Citywide quarantines, travel restrictions and obsessive public health checks aren’t authoritarian. They’re the kind of total mobilization that happens during major national crises such as war, regardless of the system of government.”
This position, often repeated, is utter nonsense. For one thing, we aren’t at “war.” There are no coronavirus spies and no coronavirus sabotage. Affixing “war” to societal problems — the war on drugs being the most obvious example— is typically a justification for expanding state power. Also, authoritarianism isn’t defined as “strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom except when there is a pandemic.” Your declarative sentences and forceful feelings do not transform the meaning of either authoritarianism or freedom. Though if we dump our principles every time there’s a crisis, they might as well.